On May 18, it was reported that Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and the city are looking at the Albuquerque Rail Yards as one area the city is looking at for a new soccer stadium. According to the report, Keller believes a new stadium at the Rail Yards could transform Albuquerque and he had this to say:
“You know, the feasibility study is coming out very soon, so stay tuned in June, and they’re going to have several locations, and sort of a cost model outline, so we’re excited, but we’ll wait for the study and take it from there. … You know, for us, we want it to be a vibrant place that is both accessible to the community around and a reflection of that heritage and also an area that is a magnet for people to come from all over the state to visit, work or live or to shop.”
The Rail Yards Market recently reopened, but there’s also a proposal to build an immersive art exhibit at the site. The city has $140 million worth of projects in 2021 including a Rail Trail that will connect the Rail Yards to east downtown Albuquerque. The new path would let people walk or ride their bikes over train tracks. The $5 million project is still in the design phase.
RAIL-YARDS MASTER DEVELOPMENT PLAN
On June 16, 2014, the Albuquerque City Council by a unanimous vote of 9 to 0 approved and adopted R-14-23 entitled “Railyards Master Development Plan and Site Development Plan For Subdivision To Provide The Appropriate Policy Framework And Regulations To Guide The Redevelopment Of The Railyard Site”. The Master Development Plan is 73 pages long and with tables, designs and photos it is 224 pages.
The Development plan was prepared by Samitaur Constructs. The “Railyards Master Development Plan and Site Development Plan” is highly detailed and takes great care to identify the historical nature of the Railyards, what affect it will have on the community and identifies what types of development should be considered. You can review the entire Railyards Master Development at this link:
On September 16, 2018 Mayor Tim Keller announced the city had severed its relationship between the city and Samitaur Constructs announcing the city had taken back management and control of the development. The city has upgraded one building, the blacksmith shop, where the Rail Yards Market Place takes place on weekends. Steps are also being taken to activating a second building to accommodate additional vendors and the city has submitted a contamination remediation plan to the State.
LELAND CONSULTING GROUP FINANCIAL REPORT
Leland Consulting Group is a Portland-based development consulting firm that was contracted to study the financial feasibility of redeveloping the Albuquerque Rail Yards. The Leland Consulting Group has determined that it will cost the city between $50 million and $80 million in infrastructure, environmental remediation and structural renovations to develop the property.
The city has completed an environmental study of the site and has submitted a voluntary remediation plan to the state. The city is moving forward with demolition of small non-historic structures for site improvements. The city has also submitted a state capital request for $15 million to support rail yard environmental remediation and site improvements.
When Mayor Keller says that a “feasibility study is coming out very soon, so stay tuned in June” what he is referring to is the private financial feasibility study.
The Leland report suggests 3 different levels of development of varying levels of density. The report notes redevelopment will occur over many years, making it impossible to predict the exact mix that would work. All the levels of redevelopment call for “adaptive reuse” of buildings on the property’s north side, which the report calls the Rail Yards’ “front door.” Proposed uses include Central New Mexico Community College’s film center, the existing Rail Yards Market, and new retail, restaurants and commercial tenants and residential homes.
The Leland draft report recommended 10,000 to 20,000 square feet of retail space in the Rail Yards over the next decade. According to the report, the focus should be on food and beverage tenants, vendors related to film or rail travel, existing area businesses looking to expand or “small, local vendors that build on the Rail Yards’ unique, historic and gritty character.”
The Leland development report suggests using large existing buildings near the Rail Yards’ center. The Boiler Shop and the Machine Shop alone has nearly 4 acres of enclosed floor space. There are facilities that would require renovation for concerts, festivals, special events, film productions and even team sporting events. Two scenarios suggest renovating and remodeling existing buildings to create 110,000 to 200,000 square feet of employment space. The Leland report suggests that is more space than likely needed over the next decade.
Housing is also recommended in the report. The report’s various scenarios include 65 to 160 mixed-income housing units near the Rail Yards’ southern end.
When Mayor Keller says that a “feasibility study is coming out very soon, so stay tuned in June” he is referring to any one of 3 separate development proposals to be considered. Those proposals are low density development, medium density development and a high-density development.
The Leland Report projects $50 million will be needed for the low-density development, $55 million preparation work for the medium density and $80 million for high density development. Leland is recommending that the city select the medium density development. The report does caution that the $55 million to $80 million estimates are strictly preliminary.
The medium density development would require $55 million for utilities, landscaping, cleaning up contamination and making improvements to the deteriorating structures on the property. It has been determined that the ground contamination cleanup is not as serious as was originally thought and will be less costly because the rail yards were once used for steam locomotive repair and not diesel or gas engine repair.
There is no commercial electrical grid service on the site which may require extensive investment or even a separate electrical generating facility. It has also been reported that there are options dealing with the removal asbestos and lead paint contamination that are available, such as not removing the lead paint but “encapsulating” it.
According to the financial analysis:
“As a conservative starting point, LCG recommends viewing these as costs [of $55 million to $80 million] that are likely to be borne by the City … These costs associated with ‘horizontal’ development (site preparation, transportation, utilities) will be necessary in order to set the stage for ‘vertical’ development (i.e., building improvements and new building construction, which are not shown).”
In other words, Leland is suggesting the taxpayer money be used for the $55 million to $80 million site preparation. In comparison, the ART Bus project was $130 million to build infrastructure and platforms up and down central.
The consultant’s estimates do not include the many other possible expenses, or hidden costs, associated with structural retrofits of two of the buildings “where evidence of past fire(s) were observed, which could affect the structure,” and the foundation retrofits and floor resurfacing in some of the buildings that are 100 years old. According to the report a more thorough “property and building conditions assessment” is required.
SIX GUIDING PRINCIPLES
The 2014 adopted “City Council Rail Yards Master Plan” contains 6 guiding principles intended to serve as a framework to guide the redevelopment of the Rail Yards over many decades. Following are the 6 guiding principles quoted verbatim without editing:
GUIDING PRINCIPLE #1: JOB GENERATION, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT & ECONOMIC VIABILITY
The Rail Yards, once an economic pillar for the community, is envisioned to become a hub of economic activity again. The Master Plan provides a framework for renewed economic and business success for the Project Area and is sufficiently flexible to accommodate a variety of potential future economic uses and opportunities. The Plan also provides opportunities to generate quality, living-wage and high-wage jobs and programs that will link those jobs with community residents. The Master Plan recognizes that the success of the Project Area is directly related to the financial feasibility of the overall mix of uses that is ultimately developed. Implementation of the Master Plan should prioritize uses that are financially self-sustaining and, preferably, revenue-generating and minimize the City’s exposure to and obligation for direct costs and subsidies.
EDITOR’S COMMENT: Data should be presented as proof that a soccer stadium will produce “quality, living-wage and high-wage jobs and programs.”
GUIDING PRINCIPLE #2: HOUSING INTEGRATING HOUSING :
Integrating housing into the Rail Yards redevelopment of the site is important for three reasons: 1. To ensure the availability of affordable housing in the community; 2. To minimize possible displacement of people as a result of redevelopment; and 3. To create a true mixed-use environment and a constant presence on the site, which will increase the overall vibrancy and safety of the site. The Master Plan supports construction of the required Workforce Housing and includes opportunities for additional affordable and market rate housing. The development of housing at the Rail Yards will be coordinated with the City’s ongoing efforts to rehabilitate existing housing in the surrounding neighborhoods.
EDITOR’S COMMENT: An analysis needs to be made as to what extent will the market for housing be affected next to a sports stadium.
GUIDING PRINCIPLE #3: COMMUNITY CONNECTIVITY
The Master Plan complements all adopted plans for surrounding areas, including the Barelas, South Broadway and San Jose neighborhoods. The Plan supports current and planned economic activity in the Downtown area and encourages connections with existing attractions in the area—such as the Albuquerque Zoo and BioPark, Tingley Beach, Rio Grande State Park, the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the South Broadway Cultural Center, Old Town and its museums, Downtown Albuquerque and its amenities, the Alvarado Transportation Center, the Historic 4th Street Corridor, local sports venues, the Albuquerque Sunport, and others. The Plan reinforces the City’s transit goals and objectives, and supports pedestrian, bicycle, auto and public transportation to and from the site.
EDITOR’S COMMENT: It difficult to imagine how a sports stadium will be able to connect with existing attractions in the area. A professional soccer sports stadium would likely create more of a synergy next to other athletic facilities such as the UNM Pit basketball arena, the UNM Football Stadium, Isotopes Baseball Stadium and the Duke City BMX Velodrome.
GUIDING PRINCIPLE #4: LAND USES
The Master Plan encourages new development on the Rail Yards site that balances new economic and design approaches with protection of the integrity and history of the Rail Yards and the surrounding residential communities. The Plan complements the goals in other adopted plans that cover or affect the Rail Yards site.
EDITOR’S COMMENT: It is difficult to understand how a soccer stadium will ensure the “protection of the integrity and history of the Rail Yards.”
GUIDING PRINCIPLE #5: ARCHITECTURE AND HISTORIC REHABILITATION
The Master Plan recognizes the significant value of the existing Rail Yards historic resources, i.e. buildings and structures, to a local, state and national audience. The fundamental approach to site development will be to maintain the “integrity” of the site as a whole, with individual structures being rehabilitated and adaptively re-used for modern and functional purposes, in consultation with the New Mexico Society of Historical Preservation Office (SHPO).
EDITOR’S COMMENT: The biggest hurdle for a soccer stadium at the rail yards will be how to “maintain the “integrity” of the site as a whole, with individual structures being rehabilitated and adaptively re-used for modern and functional purposes.” One way that a professional soccer stadium could protect the integrity and history of the Rail Yards would be with an architectural design that would fit into and complement the other rail yards structure designs such. An example would be a stadium that takes on the outside appearance of the engine “round house” which was torn down many years ago.
GUIDING PRINCIPLE #6: ART AND CULTURE
The Master Plan encourages opportunities for promoting the art, history and culture of the site, the community and the region. The Plan sets aside space for a museum that celebrates the history of transportation, particularly rail transportation. Commercial and residential tenants, local community members, and visitors from near and far will be attracted by heightened aesthetics, comfortable, quality amenities, and a unique cultural vibrancy.
A NEW STADIUM FOR NEW MEXICO UNITED
New Mexico United has laid out its plans for a new stadium and they’re looking at downtown. The team is looking for a 10,000 to 15,000 seat stadium, costing between $50 million to $100 million. United CEO Peter Trevisani says he is looking at what worked in other cities with new fields like Colorado Springs. He says it’s a good example of how a stadium can revitalize a neighborhood. The findings of the city’s study are expected in late June or early July. It is more likely than not that the Rail Yards will wind up on the list for the New Stadium.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It’s very understandable that Mayor Keller and the city would get excited about the prospect of building a new soccer stadium at the Albuquerque Rail Yards to accommodate the United New Mexico soccer team. Keller’s desire to have a soccer stadium built at the Albuquerque Rail Yards may be nothing more than unrealistic dream of a legacy project he covets as a Mayor and as a former high school football quarter back reliving glory days on any sports field.
It is not a given that the adopted 2014 “Railyards Master Development Plan and Site Development Plan” nor the six adopted guiding principles will allow the building of a soccer stadium. The Master Plan for the railyards recognizes that the success of the project area is directly related to the financial feasibility of the overall mix of uses that is ultimately developed, integrating housing, and plans for surrounding areas, including the Barelas, South Broadway and San Jose neighborhoods. The Mater Plan for the railyards makes it clear that the protection of the integrity and history of the Rail Yards be protected.
When you review the six guiding principles for the railyards development, there is absolutely no mention of any kind of “sports” venue or stadium which is problematic and likely very intentional given the historic nature of the railroads. An attempt was made by former Mayor Jim Baca in to build a new baseball stadium in downtown to revitalize it, and that fizzled so Baca was stuck razing the old baseball stadium and building Isotopes Baseball stadium.
No one knows for certain how the enactment of the new City Planning Comprehensive plan will have on the Railyard Development. The building of a professional soccer stadium may just be another “gentrification” project that ultimately has a dramatic and negative affect on historical Barelas Neighborhood, the way the ART Project had on historical Central and Route 66.
For the last 50 years, City Hall and virtually all Albuquerque Mayors have been fascinated and enamored with trying to revitalize the Downtown Central area. All the Mayors wanted to bring back Downtown Central of its heyday of the 1950’s and 1960’s where it was the center of commercial, business and retail and entertainment activity.
First there was “urban renewal” of the 1970’s with the new convention center built, followed by the Festival Market Place, followed by the Convention Center expansion with building the Hyatte Regency and the adjoining office building, then the rejected “Performing Arts Center”, then the 4th Street Mall concept, then the attempt to build the new Isotopes’ Baseball stadium downtown, then the convention center and civic plaza remodeling, then the ART Bus project. Each time it was a Mayor involved trying to leave his lasting mark on the city with his own legacy project. You can review Central Downtown revitalization over the years at this link”
It was on September 4, 2018 that Mayor Tim Keller announced his downtown revitalization plan. Keller proclaimed development of the Albuquerque Rail Yards as his top priority for downtown revitalization. Keller proclaimed it a “potential” economic development engine. Keller said he wanted to reinvent the historic Albuquerque Rail Yards by finding a development partner to transform the area into “an amenity where thousands can gather year-round”. The city and Keller have never found a private enterprise developer.
What is ill advised is Mayor Tim Keller apparently thinks the Rail Yard redevelopment can all be done with local talent and local and state investment tax dollars. Such massive amounts of capital, usually in the billions of dollars, is needed to build large capital projects.
To be blunt, the truth is that the City Hall and the State do not have the financial ability to undertake a cleanup and a massive investment and make capital improvements in the billions of dollars to revitalize Downtown Albuquerque. Keller for that matter, like all other Mayor’s the city has had, is enamored with Downtown revitalization and the Railyards is in the Barelas neighborhood area.
The problem is Mayor Keller does not have an understanding nor the business and investment experience background and savvy in the private sector of what it’s going take to get it done.
Mayor Keller and the city need to seek out experience in the private sector who have done such projects like those in El Paso, Denver, Phoenix and Oklahoma and even Dallas, Texas and who have a proven record of success.
Otherwise, the Rail Yard Development will wind up being just another failed legacy project to feed the ego of a Mayor very much like the ART Bus project that destroyed the character of Route 66. All Mayor’s come and go sooner, but their mistakes live on with failed projects they leave behind.
A reader of this blog article offered the following observations that merit publication:
An urban planner, I am not. Have never claimed to be one. But, of course, I still have opinions. My concerns with a railyard soccer field are:
There are a fixed number of soccer events per year. Even if HS soccer teams (if there be any such) use the field for championship playoffs, the number is still low. The rest of the year, the site will be vacant.
A big-time-sports area already exists. As you point out, there are already baseball and basketball arenas on University. Football and other facilities are proximal to those key facilities. Adding a soccer field would help consolidate these activities, and would substantially increase the total number of events per year.
Parking for 10 to 15-thousand spectators would require substantial space and facilities. If games were held during the times when shoppers and tourists were planning to come to the area, the congestion and competition for space could become problematic.
Soccer is ascendant right now. I think it’s the most thrilling of team sports, but it certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Interest could wane, just as interest in the other sports waxes and wanes over time. Putting all the teams in the same area would seem the best way to be able to absorb and adapt to changes in public participation.
And, finally, there’s the public purse. Who will be funding the stadium? I’m not aware of any substantial “investment” by a city into sports teams that pays off handsomely except for team owners.